Archive for March, 2015

Ada Lovelace, poster girl

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

If one poster girl, or black poster boy, fake, then all fake, since obviously progressives will run with the best they can find.

From time to time I read people gushing over some poster girl or other. Lately it seems to have become mandatory in every book on computing to announce that they are inspired by the glorious leadership of comrade Stalin all early programmers were women and evil men stole all the credit.

Supposedly the first programmer was Ada Lovelace. This is based on her addendum to Luigi Menabrea’s explanation of Babbage’s analytical engine.

Her notes contain several “computer programs” – or rather walkthroughs, outlines of how a program might be written were Babbage’s engine actually built. However, all of these “programs” were written by Babbage several years previously.

Ada Lovelace had rather ordinary mathematical and scientific skills – which made her already famous as a poster girl long before she met Babbage, not for being good at maths and science, but for being good at maths and science for a woman. This is the dancing bear effect. A dancing bear is famous not for dancing well, but for dancing at all.

Babbage needed publicity because funding running out. He approached Ada Lovelace because she was already famous as a poster girl, because any connection between her and the analytical engine would generate favorable publicity for the analytical engine.

So, far from Ada Lovelace’s contributions being ignored by patriarchal males, they were receiving manufactured publicity before they even existed.